Six years ago I had a conversation that profoundly impacted me and my understanding of calling. The context: I had been studying the Bible with a college student for a few weeks. She did not identify as a Christian but was eager to learn more about Jesus. We were looking at the story of Jesus’ death on the cross in Luke 23. As we read through the passage, I watched her body language change. She sank back in her chair; shoulders turned in and head down. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “If Jesus really is God and he died, what good is it for us? That’s a terrible end to the story.” A light bulb came on for me. It was an aha! moment. I realized that she had never heard the end of the story. She didn’t know that Jesus was raised from the dead! She didn’t know the Good News of Easter. And how could she unless someone told her?
"How can they know unless someone tells them?"
I had taken the end of the story for granted. Most of my spiritual conversations and evangelism assumed that people knew the gospel—at least the basic claims of Christianity—but had chosen, for one reason or another, not to believe it. But there are many who do not yet know the Christian story. How can they know unless someone tells them? In this moment, a burden to reach the lost became a clarion call to “preach the gospel where Christ [is] not known” (Romans 15:20). I had been open to going overseas and serving among unreached people groups but that was not what God had for me. It was a call to mission here in the States; a call to expand God’s Kingdom among the unreached people here.
Calling is the place where vision and burden meet.
For the past decade I have grown a belief that the most effective way to reach non-Christians was through church planting. This burden came through folks like C. Peter Wagner and Tim Keller, through studies and statistics showing the effectiveness of planting in reaching non-Christians, but especially through friends whose first-hand experience bore witness to this reality. I felt a deep burden for the unreached and believed that the way to reach them was through a community on mission together; a church. I knew that someday I would plant a church but since I hadn’t received a vision about where and when that would be, I happily continued my work in college ministry where I had been serving for the past 16 years. Then, last summer, I took a scouting trip to Santa Barbara, California.
It was clear that God was already at work in Santa Barbara. There are healthy, vibrant churches growing in the city. But I was burdened by the fact that Santa Barbara has the second highest concentration of “never churched” people in the country, meaning that they have never in their lives regularly attended a church. Chances are, they have not heard the Gospel. During my scouting trip, I kept meeting people who were either following Jesus and shared my burden to reach the lost or people who did not identify as a Christian but were curious about faith. I kept seeing opportunities and possibilities there. I felt God a growing vision and a deepening love for Santa Barbara in me. During these days, God was shaping my vision from an abstract desire to reach the lost through church planting into a love for a city and its people. I believe He was inviting me to join Him in His kingdom work in Santa Barbara. How could I refuse? In June I will move across the country to begin this new chapter of ministry. I cannot wait to see what God will do!